Thursday, October 28, 2021

Khama – Portrait of an isolated American Pawn

The American government compiled a personal profile of President Lt Gen Ian Khama which they used to manipulate him to do their bidding ÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.

As Khama nears the end of his political term, the Botswana president is now an isolated pawn that has become weaker in the endgame in the American ‘smart power’ strategy to assert US influence in Southern Africa.

A series of secret US diplomatic cables shared with the Central Intelligence Agency, the American Intelligence Agency, National Security Council, Secretary of Defence, Secretary of State, the United Kingdom and France, published by Wikileaks show how the American government compiled a personal profile of Ian Khama which they used to try and advance their “smart power” to reassert US influence in the region.

Immediately after completing his first 100 days in office, Washington was convinced that they have their man at the Botswana State House. The then US deputy Chief of Mission in Gaborone, Philip R. Drouin wrote in one of his secret reports: Having served as DCM at and seen this Mission for the past two years, I note that former Ambassador Canavan and many of us here have long advocated to senior-most GOB officials that democratic and middle income Botswana should step up and assert itself in international fora like the UN, the AU, and in SADC, so as to stand with like-minded states in the Community of Democracies to promote democracy and human rights on difficult and sometimes defining issues — namely Zimbabwe. We have also urged the GOB to take a leadership role on issues of import for regional security and stability. These two keystone objectives are elaborated as our first two goals in the FY2010 Mission Strategic Plan for the U.S. Mission to Botswana. President Ian Khama has now been in office in Gaborone for just over 100 days, but we have clearly seen a sea change in the GOB’s approach on pivotal issues like Zimbabwe. Just prior to his April 1 inauguration, we had reported that Khama remained a difficult read, holding his cards as then-Vice President close to his vest (Ref G). Since assuming office, we have witnessed how Zimbabwe has increasingly consumed the lion’s share of his focus (Ref F). He has shown us a number of his cards by now, to be sure, but the one he seems to be holding with an anxious interest to play is for Botswana to seek a much deeper security partnership with the United States.

Khama and US “Smart Power”

A year after Khama took over the presidency, the then American Deputy Chief of Mission in Gaborone, Scott Hamilton presented to the US command a three part report on how the US “smart power” in Botswana could be leveraged to achieve American strategic goals in the region.

The report, compiled in August 2009 came seven months after the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton endorsed the use of “smart power” to reassert global US influence.

In international relations, the term smart power refers to the combination of hard power and soft power strategies. It is defined by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank based in Washington as “an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions of all levels to expand American influence and establish legitimacy of American action.”[

Hamilton pointed out that, “U.S.-Botswana partnership is a model for what smart power could achieve in Africa.” Hamilton further states that, “This is the first in a series of cables that will address the strategic value of the U.S.-Botswana partnership. Subsequent messages will focus in more detail on the thematic areas outlined below, on the prospects for a “coalition for change” of like-minded countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and offer suggestions for increased U.S.-Botswana engagement.”

Hamilton further states that “Mission Gaborone’s operational goals going forward include: –Promoting a more pragmatic and operationally relevant role for SADC in addressing regional challenges. –Ensuring our relationship with the GOB’s Department of Intelligence and Security strengthens our understanding of regional dynamics.”

A month later, in September 2009 then American Ambassador to Botswana and President Khama’s personal friend Stephen Nolan dispatched another “secret” document to the US command that,” Our policy challenge is to encourage Khama to seek to build alliances with like-minded countries within SADC and the AU and try to influence policy outcomes. Being “right” on issues like Zimbabwe is a virtue, but being effective in ensuring change is harder and more important for Botswana’s longer term interests. We see several potential allies for Khama in the sub-region, including potentially Presidents Kikwete and Zuma, depending on the issues, but it is not yet clear that Khama is willing to invest time in this coalition-building effort. Our view in Gaborone is that personal encouragement by senior USG officials would be the first and most valuable step towards a more regionally effective Khama.

US Khama personal profile

To ensure that the US personal engagement with Khama yielded desired results, the US government needed to identify Khama’s soft spot.

A month earlier, in August 2009 Nolan had discovered Khama’s weakness for environmental issues during a Tourism Pitso. In a report he dispatched to among others, the CIA, Defence Intelligence Agency, Secretary of State and the US Africa command believed to be part of Khama’s personal profile, Nolan states that, “It is clear that the GOB (Government of Botswana), and President Khama in particular, place high importance on the growth of the tourism sector, as evidenced by President Khama spending over two hours at the conference. The President rarely commits so much time to any single event. Additionally, Khama’s animated participation and seeming ease while answering audience questions shows that he is well briefed, comfortable, and engaged with issues related to tourism, especially environmental conservation – an issue especially close to his heart.”

Armed with this information, Nolan encouraged American leaders who pursued personal engagement with Khama to soften the Botswana president by engaging him on environmental issues. “Engaging him informally on environmental issues would likely pay significant policy dividends and could lead to his broader regional engagement” states Ambassador Nolan in his three part report “intended to address aspects of the U.S.-Botswana partnership that may be of strategic relevance to the United States.”

Indications are that at some stage, Ambassador Nolan who had a strong liking for president Khama was becoming frustrated with Khama’s failure to win over SADC leaders to his position. In another dispatch to Washington on October 2009 as a scene setter for Khama visit to Washington on November 5-7 to chair the Conservation International annual meeting, Nolan states that Khama “spends less time on working with regional colleagues to effect change on political issues, in part because as a career military officer he has little patience for traditional politics and in part because he thinks regional colleagues are not as committed to good governance and transparency. While we value Khama’s outspoken approach, we should encourage him to work with like-minded colleagues to shape regional consensus in favour of good governance rather than remain distant from a consensus shaped by others. Khama’s visit is also an opportunity to highlight the fact that Botswana is the most stable and reliable friend of the United States in southern Africa, commend Botswana’s stewardship of its resources, encourage additional peacekeeping deployments by the Botswana Defense Force, and — as a prominent environmentalist — solicit Khama’s views on environmental management in Africa.”

US sees opportunity in Khama

After Khama won his presidential elections in October 2009, Ambassador Nolan wrote another report on “Unleashing the U.S.-Botswana Partnership”

The report states: “As Ian Khama begins his five-year term as the President of Botswana, a peaceful, democratic American friend in Africa, our policy opportunity is how to leverage Botswana’s excellent domestic governance and resource management to achieve broader regional goals. We recommend that senior USG officials acknowledge Botswana as a political and economic success story in Africa. We should find ways to publicize Botswana’s achievements and promote the country as a model, thereby “rewarding success.” Khama has made expanding Botswana’s agricultural sector a key priority, so perhaps the new Food Security Initiative is a new area of potential partnership. Second, we should solicit Khama’s opinion on ways that the USG could work more closely on ways that the USG could work more closely in southern Africa with like-minded countries such as Botswana. Khama’s unique insights into the inner-workings of SADC, for example, may aid our policy planning on Zimbabwe or Madagascar. As a committed environmentalist, Khama may also offer insights on how we can engage successfully African countries on important USG initiatives. Our overarching effort should be to encourage Khama to build upon his courageous policy positions with more concerted efforts to work with regional allies. Botswana has matured politically in recent years and is increasingly willing to speak out against a regional consensus it finds distasteful. Ensuring that Khama is effective in the region as well as “right” on the issues offers considerable potential policy benefits for the USG.

Botswana’s foreign policy

Indications are that Botswana’s “attack dog” foreign policy may be at the instigation of the American government. Sources at the Office of the President state that president Khama was a close friend and confidante of former American Ambassador, Stephen Nolan. In support of Khama’s foreign policy positions, Ambassador Nolan wrote in one of his many dispatches that “Botswana is consistent and courageous in urging democracy and the rule of law in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe. President Khama has refused to bow to the SADC consensus of “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe and has often spoken out against the Mugabe regime. Botswana provided refuge and moral support to now-Prime Minister Tsvangirai during the negotiations of the Global Political Agreement, and since the formation of the unity government has ceaselessly encouraged full GPA implementation. Khama told reporters in mid-October that the unity government was in “real danger of collapse” and he warned that should the MDC pull out of the coalition, Botswana would not recognize Mugabe as the legitimate President. Botswana has been vocal on other regional crises include Madagascar and Sudan, regularly announcing that Botswana would arrest and extradite Sudanese President Bashir should he visit. In 2008, Botswana voted with the United States on all key UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) human rights resolutions, in violation of the “African consensus” against single country resolutions, and we expect it to do the same in 2009. Still, Khama has been reluctant to engage in the business of building coalitions within SADC and the AU to create a regional consensus in favour of his positions. He appears to regard such efforts as not worth the time he would have to expend on them, in part because he has a low regard for regional colleagues’ commitment to governance and transparency. As a biracial leader of a relatively small country that did not go through a bloody anti-colonial struggle to achieve independence, Botswana faces additional challenges in persuading others of the virtues of its positions.

Khama’s reward

It emerges in the Wikileaks secret cables that President Khama may have been hoping for some form of reward for his foreign policy positions and this was not lost on Washington. The Botswana government through the Botswana Defence Force in 2008 make a request to the American government for military equipment.

The US deputy Chief of Mission in Gaborone at the time, Philip R. Drouin stated in his diplomatic dispatch to Washington: “This Mission believes this formal GOB/BDF request and list to be less a request for emergency assistance and more an attempt by the Government of Botswana to gauge the USG response to their recent very public and resolute stance against Zimbabwe. We also believe the GOB is seeking to move the existing bilateral security relationship to a new and elevated level of partnership. The GOB is likely probing for the level of the U.S. commitment based on the type and cost of the equipment that the USG might be willing to provide. Botswana President Ian Khama, who since his April 1 inauguration has been increasingly focusing on Zimbabwe, genuinely appears to be seeking a much deeper security partnership with the United States. That said, this Mission is mindful of how a closer USG-GOB security relationship, with possible provision of new arms and equipment, might impact our ongoing diplomacy in Southern Africa and beyond. Post believes we should examine ways to enhance institutional ties and other support for the GOB and the BDF where appropriate, but also in a manner that will not harm overriding U.S. interests in Africa. End Summary. 3. (S) The ODC Chief also believes the BDF senior staff has deliberately crafted this request list to include a number of non-lethal items so that the USG will be able to support at least a part of the request. Such items might include combat helmets and flak jackets with appropriate dual-use applications to peacekeeping and peace support operations. While it is not yet completely clear to post at what level decisions in this area are being made, our best guess is that it is highly likely that President Khama directed Minister Seretse to make the initial July 8 formal, general request for military assistance (Ref B). Our sense, however, is that the President (and a one-time BDF Commander) might not be aware of what specific items are on the final request …..We all recognize and are encouraged that Botswana has taken a principled and most helpful position on Zimbabwe in recent months, but especially coming to the fore in past weeks around the time of Zimbabwe’s flawed June 27 run-off election. Having served as DCM at and seen this Mission for the past two years, I note that former Ambassador Canavan and many of us here have long advocated to senior-most GOB officials that democratic and middle income Botswana should step up and assert itself in international fora like the UN, the AU, and in SADC, so as to stand with like-minded states in the Community of Democracies to promote democracy and human rights on difficult and sometimes defining issues — namely Zimbabwe. We have also urged the GOB to take a leadership role on issues of import for regional security and stability. These two keystone objectives are elaborated as our first two goals in the FY2010 Mission Strategic Plan for the U.S. Mission to Botswana. President Ian Khama has now been in office in Gaborone for just over 100 days, but we have clearly seen a sea change in the GOB’s approach on pivotal issues like Zimbabwe. Just prior to his April 1 inauguration, we had reported that Khama remained a difficult read, holding his cards as then-Vice President close to his vest (Ref G). Since assuming office, we have witnessed how Zimbabwe has increasingly consumed the lion’s share of his focus (Ref F). He has shown us a number of his cards by now, to be sure, but the one he seems to be holding with an anxious interest to play is for Botswana to seek a much deeper security partnership with the United States. An early advocate of AFRICOM to be sure (Ref H), President Khama’s apparent desire to expand bilateral defense cooperation should therefore not surprise us. That said, this Mission remains fully mindful of how a much closer USG-GOB security relationship, with our possible provision of new and sophisticated materiel, might play in this neighborhood and beyond and impact our diplomacy just now. Post thus believes we should look for ways to enhance further our institutional ties and other support for the GOB and the BDF where appropriate, but also in measures that will not harm overriding U.S. interests in Africa. ….Pursuant to Ref B (Notal), post requests guidance and instruction on the appropriate USG response to this GOB/BDF request list and general demarche on possible military assistance from the United States, in a manner that might serve to bolster our already strong bilateral relationship and demonstrate U.S. solidarity for Botswana’s, and President Khama’s, resolve on Zimbabwe.”

READ PART 2 next week

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